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Healthy Creative Living - Interview with Abigail Platter

I've decided to conduct a series of interviews with some creative friends in order to shed more light on the topic of what it means to live a healthy creative life. My hope is that it will become a form of worker solidarity that helps creatives set firm boundaries around their time, safety, and long-term health.


Abigail Platter

"Seeing beauty in a process that's really difficult is what a lot of artists do. And I think that creatives can see beauty in things that maybe other people would deem ugly."

For this week's post, I spoke to illustrator, friend, and fellow SPU Alumna Abigail Platter! I think of her work as bridging the worlds of fine art and illustration. Her work is technically exquisite and filled with meaning. But Abigail also infuses her philosophies and beliefs into every aspect of her life- from her relationships to her method of working. I hope you take something meaningful away from our conversation!


 

Suzi

Hi, Abigail! Thank you so much for taking the time to help artists live well. Please tell the readers a little bit about yourself and what you make.


Abigail

Wonderful. Well, my name is Abigail. I go by, she/her. And I make artwork, illustrations, designs, classes, and friendships. I work at Bethany Community Church as an art director and designer, and I work at Seattle Pacific University as an adjunct professor teaching drawing and painting. I also make my own watercolors, illustrations, and sketches and just read a lot and try to make things that are interesting. So that's probably a good overview of what I make.

Lots of drawings. I made a lot of paintings last year and I'm hoping to keep that going.


Suzi

Nice. So you do a lot of different things, but would you consider your creative work full-time?


Abigail

Yes. I think that because all of my jobs are creative jobs, which is really happy for me. The work that I do at Bethany community church is not quite commercial, but it is designed for a particular thing. Right? Like they give me topics and then we create branded deliverables based on whatever series is happening. That's very creative work and I have a couple of different running projects that I do there that involve drawing or something like that almost every week. So that's really exciting. And then the classes that I get to teach are drawing and painting based. And so I get to teach people how to use gouache paint, or how to study the figure or how to make a landscape and do perspective drawing. So I think that's very creative and whenever I get to do my own work, I try to make it illustrative. Those are my paintings at this point. Like the more illustrated work are my personal paintings, but I get to do all of that at my other job as well. So. Yes.


Suzi

You have a lot of different things going on day to day, but what kind of routines do you have in place?


Title Illustration from Abigail's show "Grief House".

Abigail

So during the pandemic, I had a really particular routine that was keeping me going. And I was living with a bunch of friends in a house at that time, but it was kinda like living alone. So at that point, I had a much more strict routine. I would wake up. And put on my running shoes and go for either a run or a walk every morning. And I'd come back and make my breakfast and then sit for like an hour and read and then I would work until after lunch. Hopefully, that was on an ideal day. I’d probably take a little break and then get back and do some more things until it was time to let my evening just be a relaxed time. Right now during this season, I have been living with my sister and so we sit and chat in the morning. And I drink tea and we read together and that's been really nice.


And then I actually have a very different schedule pretty much every day. And I have different to-dos that just have to happen and deadlines. And so I think I let myself have a more weekly routine now than a daily routine. So some days I might be gone all day. Mondays I'm working at home and hopefully I'm getting creative work done. Tuesdays, I go to the office. Wednesdays I am prepping for my class. Thursdays, hopefully, another creative day, Friday, hopefully, some kind of day off or something. And then Saturday is usually a really late start. And then Sundays goes again. So I'll make sure that during those times, I know when my peak productivity hours are. And when can I be creative and when can I make myself do really focused work. So I think now that I've finished this show that I was working on, I would like to have a rhythm put in again of what are the days that I do four to six hours of really focused work, and when can I just put that on my schedule? Because it was largely Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays that I was doing that. And then, you know, taking care of my body's important. If I don't work out in the morning, I often will not work out at all. So getting my body moving in the morning has usually been important.


Suzi

Do you have an idea how many hours it's safe for you to be actively drawing and painting? The amount where you feel like you're not going to injure yourself.


Abigail


I could do more for sure. When I'm working on a painting, and I'm doing a lot of high-level problem-solving, six hours is about the mark where my brain doesn't make good decisions anymore. So I would say, I probably would not injure myself unless I was doing like very wristy ink work or drawings, you know, every day, all day hunching over. I've done big watercolors -big kind of uncomfortable paintings where my back got sore after a while. And I thought I had to go to the PT just to figure out what was going on. But I would say six hours of straight work.


When I was training and doing a lot with Watts Atelier online I would do three-hour segments and I would do three of those a day. So I would do three hours from nine to noon, one to four, and sometimes six to nine. And I did that four or five times a week for a two-year stretch. It wasn't quite every day, it was like five days a week. But I think that felt like it had a very particular trajectory. So I was drawing and painting and following a program. Burnout could happen when you're working long hours at a time when you don't have any reward and motivation at the end. When it's just this never-ending hopeless cycle. But there was always kind of build-up on that. So that's what I mean when I say I could do more drawing - I could probably spend long chunks of time every day building towards something and stay motivated.


Suzi

There are physical health risks associated with being an artist. What kind of precautions do you take to minimize those?


Abigail

Okay. So I do have a physical therapist. And none of my body injuries have been drawing-related, but I've just been unlucky. And had a couple of types of injuries. One of them was a subluxation of my shoulder, which is a partial dislocation. Oh, and that was from towel whipping a friend of mine. So. Don't take revenge on your friends. Especially at the beach. It's very dangerous. When that happened I had to rebuild the muscles in my body. Specifically, instead of using only my neck muscles to pick things up, I had to learn to use my muscles in my back and really do a full back buildup. And I think maybe the more dangerous part for me when I'm for drawing is that if I'm not strong, then that doesn't help with longevity.


I'm probably not going to get art injuries with how I work right now, because my days are so different every single day. So repetitive motion isn't quite as much of an issue for me. I haven't worked out in two months, but this is making me reconsider that. I often have a pretty okay workout schedule when I'm on my game. And I think that just helps keep me not sore and keeps me a happy drawer. After the partial dislocation, I needed a lot of muscle building and artists often -we are often not building muscle and we're not doing anything physically taxing like heavy lifting. So, that's where staying strong can be important.


Suzi

Do you consider any ergonomic factors in your workspace, or when you're doing a figure drawing session?


Abigail

I probably should. I sit down to do my work at my desk a lot, and I just have a comfortable chair. But I also stand up a lot while I'm drawing. If I was drawing at my desk every single day, I would maybe consider it a little bit more. And hopefully, I get to do that again someday so that I have to worry about ergonomics. I think when I'm drawing in the classroom I'm up on my feet a lot. So making sure that I have good shoes, and that my feet are taken care of. I also had an ankle injury, so I've had to do some leg, ankle work.


Abigail's work in progress. Look at all her test paintings!

And I think, for me, the biggest thing is staying strong and making sure that if something's in pain, listening to it. Like my shoulder isn't all the way good yet. My foot is not all the way good yet. I need to listen to that pain so that I catch it now and get the work done that I need to get done.


Suzi

So not pushing through the pain.


Abigail

Yeah, no. Because long-term, that's not going to be helpful. And if it's mild pain right now, it's probably something that you can fix and do differently. Right? My shoulder was bothering me for years and then the partial dislocation was just because I hadn't taken care of it. Like I hadn't built any muscle in correlation to the pain that I often felt. And so for me, if anything starts hurting, there's probably a reason for it. And that's maybe signaling to me that I shouldn’t wait until it's a major problem. Fix it now.


Suzi

Are there any health aides you regularly use?


Abigail

No, except for wearing these screen glasses. And I think, instead of using anything, I do have insurance. I'm glad of that. So, I need to go get my eyes checked, I need to put that on the schedule. And I need to go to the PT again, just to make sure that those things are taken care of. Go to the dentist to look good on zoom calls. But other than that, there isn't anything I use.


Suzi

Okay, that's good to know. How do you maintain your creative energy? Both in the short and the long term.

Abigail

I think that is an evolving answer. Which is, I think maybe a good thing. I think there are two sides to that.

One side is to always be creating. Stay creative and keep doing ideas and keep positive self-talk about those kinds of things. Especially if you're out of the creative flow. Celebrate whenever you do make something, instead of saying like, oh, it's not good enough. I think that starting at a real baseline -every creative act is worth celebrating. So create that reward system in your brain that says, Hey, creating is a good thing, and it's not going to kill you. And failure actually doesn't exist in the creative sphere.


I've lately tried to revamp my sketch booking and just sketch more. And again, telling myself like, a line is good. Just putting a line down is worth this moment and it's going to be a good thing, you know? And so starting there, especially having been out of the sketching -I wasn't sketch booking much in the last year. So bringing it back in and saying, I'm going to put a pencil to paper and it's going to be a good day. And I'm actually really enjoying what I'm making. So that's a really good thing. And then just letting myself be like, I'm going to draw rabbits getting shot by arrows for an hour. And this is an okay thing to do, and it's going to be cool. And I'm going to draw a chicken that is also a Pope. And it's a good idea. You know, things like that. Our dumb ideas, but also great. And maybe that will lead somewhere.



That's side one and then a side B is actually making sure that if I'm exhausted, I believe that's true. So yesterday was my day off, and I had a really long weekend. The artist inside of me really wanted to draw cause I didn't get to draw all weekend. And I'm just like, ah, you need to do this. But then the other tired person inside of me said, actually you need to take a nap. And since it was my day off, I actually went to the park and I took pictures of swamps and that was still creative. And I did what I wanted to do, I just listened to what I needed, and I was just like, I'm going to take a nap. And now I really want to take pictures. And then when I came back, I wanted to listen to a podcast. And so I listened to and read some really interesting theology that was also difficult. Some of which I didn't agree with and I was just trying to keep ideas bouncing back and forth. And I think doing all of those things together kind of gives me this feeling of moving forward even when I’m not “creating”.


And then it really does help that I have jobs that are creative and force me to solve different creative problems all the time.

And I could talk about this for a long time, but lastly, when I am doing things where I don't get to be that creative, like when I'm doing people-centric jobs, or when I'm doing work that doesn't involve drawing, it gives me this ache to get back to it as fast as possible. And I think there is something good about that when it's not easy. And you have to say like, no, I'm going to do this no matter what. And so maybe, I don't know if “fight” is the right word, but you have to grab hold of it and make sure that it happens. And I think it makes it feel even more valuable.


Suzi

What are some things you've had to let go of in order to live a healthier creative life?


Abigail

I think when I am seriously creating, I don't get to spend as much time goofing off with people. I make sure I see my nephews, and my family, they need me, and I often don’t see as many people as I’d like to. I don't watch a lot of movies, but sometimes that changes. But I don't have tons of time for it. I don't really binge-watch TV shows unless it's the Witcher with my sister. I don't do a lot of traveling. And especially when I'm making work. But again, it's all a flux. And so I think it's easy to get tunnel vision and see only my work at certain times. And I think knowing when that can flex and it'll be okay is important. I'm taking a trip to the ocean this next week and that's because it's going to be good and I'm going to love it. And I'm going with a friend and that's not work, but I know that it is long-term beneficial. There was a long time when I lived simpler and my rent was cheaper or extremely cheap at different points. And because early on I needed an art education, I did not push forward in a career or living situation. So I have made particular strategic sacrifices to make sure that I was emotionally healthy, but also creatively healthy. I could probably push harder in different things, but I also want to make sure I have space to stay creative.


Suzi

Let’s talk about the mental health side of creative work, please share as much or as little as you like about your successes or struggles with maintaining your mental health in regards to your creative practice.


Abigail

That's a really good question. I think on the one hand staying, I said earlier, really positive and celebratory. And if you're somebody who identifies with feeling a lot of failure at any given point, just make sure that even if you're wanting to draw at a really high level, tell yourself that there is no failure. Yeah, I think that that's an important mindset to say like, no drawing I make is a waste of time. And no act of creativity is a failure.


You can criticize and move forward. Critiquing and making sure that my work gets better over time is really important to me, even from a technical realism standpoint. So just saying, okay, what's going to work better on the next piece? What did I learn? What would I do differently? That's not tearing me down. That's in some ways believing that I can make the work better. That's really important. I believe that I can do even more than this. And what I did was really good and we're gonna keep moving forward. I think I want everyone to feel that way. I want everyone to know that what they did today was a great effort and what they're going to do tomorrow might even be better.


And you're a whole person, we're whole people. And so my creative self is not any different than my emotional self. They're the same, it's in the same body, it's the same person. So I think getting really good therapy and knowing when you need to reach out and say I either need to talk to my therapist, or I need my very caring friends to helpme. Knowing when that is has been a really good learning experience.


Suzi

Have you ever experienced creative burnout?


Abigail

Yeah, and I think that it's one of those interesting things. I rarely give as much as I think I could. So when you ask that question, I think, yes, I've probably been burnt out or near there. But I don't think I've ever quite let myself get to total burnout. But I think there have been times where I haven't enjoyed what I'm working on or I've been really tired. And I've been so tired that I didn't want to do anymore or I needed a long break. And maybe that is what burnout is. I think there are more severe levels that I haven't gotten to. And those usually were in relationship to not taking breaks. If I work every single day, without taking a day off, that's a recipe for me to start feeling crazy really fast. I just don't do it very well. I did that to finish the recent show that I did. I probably lasted about eight weeks working every day. And after that I needed some time off. . But I don't think that was burnout because that was recent, and I'm still rearing to go and I'm excited. I have a lot of ideas.


But I think having rhythms in my life keeps me now from getting burned out. And then I also, I keep hammering down on this, but staying really positive about the work I'm doing and saying like, what I'm making is good enough. It doesn't have to be perfect. I think keeping myself out of the perfectionist zone really helps me stay consistently creative. I usually say that a happy Abigail is a painting Abigail. Because I think that when I'm doing well and I'm staying emotionally uplifted, I'm going to be drawing and painting.


Suzi

What has been your journey in creating a work-life balance?


Abigail

Friendship and family relationships that are strong. They make it fun to take days off and take time off. When I wake up in the morning, I spend time slowly getting up and reading and not doing very much for like two hours. I know that not everyone gets to do that, but with the job that I have, I don't have to just jump into the shower and go off to my job every morning. So I get to just spend a really slow morning time getting ready. And to me, that really helps. That's not a production time, I'm not making anything, I'm not really interacting with anyone but my sister. It's just a time to think and be, and that is a really critical time to feel balanced because if I don't have a time in the day when I'm a little settled, it can go weird, really fast. I can get kind of weird.


Abigail's morning quiet time

And then I also, like I said, rhythms and planning ahead. I spend a lot of time looking ahead at my calendar and saying, what's happening this month? And what are the really busy moments and where do I know that this day is not going to be productive? Like where in my routine, is there going to be a day or a moment in the next two weeks that is going to be wise for me to not schedule anything? No hangouts, no creativity, no production. Where can I just be.









And I used to be more strict and make it once a week, every single Friday. And that's still kind of is my thing. Fridays are a really flexible day where I don't make myself make anything. But I think just knowing what everything's going to be. And because I’m working at a church, I also have a weekend, like this last weekend, where it was a lot of people and a lot of activity. As an introvert, I knew that yesterday I would need a recovery day. So knowing what activities need recovery has been really important for figuring out what my soul needs to balance.


Suzi

Awesome. Do you have any creative resources you'd like to share?

Abigail passed along these books for you to check out!

Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear


Suzi

Lastly, tell me your favorite thing about being a creative and living a creative life.


Abigail

I like how I think. And I like how I've been encouraged and taught to think. With the education that I've done, I've learned a lot of poetry and metaphor that I believe applies to life in the world. There’s beauty in places that people don't expect to see beauty. And speaking of the show that I just did, the title of the show was “Grief House”. Seeing beauty in a process that's really difficult is what a lot of artists do. And I think that creatives can see beauty in things that maybe other people would deem ugly.


I have a friend who is a wonderful painter. Andie Taylor. I graduated with him. And he paints really grungy, rundown buildings and broken cars and abandoned spaces and all of these kind of gritty things. But I would use beauty as a way to define his work because it just is beautiful. He's a very complex thinker and he makes stunning work. I want one of his prints and it's just a stack of cars that are all broken down. And so I think the way artists can see beauty everywhere, or see the poetry, or see the reality is really magnificent. And so even if their work isn't straightforward as beautiful, there's usually something transcendent that artists are trained to see that maybe other people just aren't able to see. Artists have a great vision they can share, giving people open minds and hearts to where beauty is all around us.



Thank you again Abigail for sharing your insights! Check out her Instagram and if you're in Seattle, visit her work in person at SPU's Nickerson Studios until June 10th 2022. Nothing compares to seeing these paintings and sketches in person.

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